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Charly Haley , Published January 25 2013

Police warn against driving on frozen lakes

FARGO – Despite what the recent bitter-cold temperatures suggest, a frozen lake may not be a strong as you’d think.

An SUV fell through the ice on Lake Minnetonka a week ago in the Twin Cities.

A woman and her 2-year-old daughter were quickly rescued, while the woman’s husband stayed in the water trying to save their 9-month-old daughter who was strapped in the backseat of the submerged vehicle. Firefighters pulled the baby from the SUV, but she later died.

Local authorities warn against driving on frozen lakes, especially when it’s a lake that isn’t familiar.

The thickness of the ice determines whether it’s safe, said Lt. Matt McGuire of the Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Department.

Clear ice is safe to walk on when it’s 4 inches thick, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website. It can hold a snowmobile or ATV at 5 inches, a small vehicle at 8 to 12 inches and a medium vehicle at 12 to 15 inches.

White ice, or “snow ice,” is only about half as strong as new, clear ice, and those measurements should be doubled for white ice, the DNR site states.

McGuire said the only way he knows of to measure thickness is using an auger, like with ice fishing.

“Temperatures don’t always matter,” he said.

McGuire also warned against driving on ice with moving water below it. He said this is most common in lakes that rivers run through, but said it can be impossible to tell if there’s moving water in any unfamiliar lake.

Pete Fendt, president of Valley Water Rescue, listed some safety measures regarding driving on lake ice:

• Don’t wear a seat belt when driving on a lake.

If the vehicle cracks the ice and is submerged, escaping is more difficult while wearing a seat belt, Fendt said.

• Escape through the window.

The electric devices in most vehicles will continue to work after a vehicle is submerged, which means automatic windows will work, Fendt said.

The best chance of escape is through the windows because the doors will not open until the pressure in the vehicle equalizes, he said.

• Most cars will float for a period of time.

Fendt encouraged drivers to read their car’s STAR report to see how long it will float.

The DNR website states there is no such thing as 100 percent safe ice.

“The dangers are always there,” Fendt said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Charly Haley at (701) 235-7311